Burton’s darkness shines in Charlie remake

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 22, 2005

Today, we explore the story of a man. A simple man. A man with ghost-like pale skin and a high voice that sounds like it stopped changing in second grade. A man with a troubled relationship with his father and no social relationships, forcing him to spend his life in a magical playland populated by strange creatures, and occasionally inhabited by small children – mostly boys.

On second thought, let’s not – I mean, hasn’t Michael Jackson been in the news enough lately?

Anyway, on to today’s film review, that of the remake of the 1971 flick &uot;Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,&uot; which was itself the cinematic version of the legendary Roald Dahl tome. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, who massacred one legendary tale with the godawful &uot;Sleepy Hollow,&uot; reunite to bring the story of a man and his chocolate to cinematic life.

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Wonka is a local recluse who puts out one of the world’s largest supplies of chocolate across the world from his factory. The place was closed for a few years, but it somehow opened back up, a mystery because no one around the town has seen Wonka or his workers for years.

One day, he makes a stunning offer to the world; golden tickets have been placed inside five of his candy bars, and the children that find them will win a trip to the factory, where a much greater prize awaits. One of the children is Charlie Bucket, who lives near Wonka’s factory in a broken-down shack with his parents and four grandparents.

Now when I first heard about this film, I was thinking, &uot;Now how can Tim Burton, who could remake ‘Rocky’ and make it dark and dreary, do such a film and make it acceptable for children? I mean, even ‘Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure’ had some creepy moments!&uot;

Well, Burton doesn’t try to mask his own skills in that department – the opening sequence proves that only he could make chocolate baking seem ominous. There’s also a new element to the story that adds another pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps element; unlike the first film, we learn about Wonka’s personal life, which is in shambles because of his estrangement from his dentist father.

While Wonka was played before by Gene Wilder, now Depp takes the role, and it’s like apples and kiwis; Wilder gave Wonka an edge that made him seem likable while letting everyone know that he knew something we didn’t. Depp’s character, on the other hand, seems like Wonka didn’t get his full share of sanity, with his mindless banter, catatonic-esque smile, and tendency to float off into sub-consciousness at a moment’s notice

Actually, the film is probably better for those who haven’t seen the first film; they’re the ones who can just sit back and enjoy it. Those who have seen the Wilder flick about 861 times – like, say, me – won’t be able to watch it without comparing the two all the way through, and that’s not fair.

First, let’s talk about what’s missing, like the songs. &uot;The Candyman Can,&uot; and &uot;Imagination&uot; just added to the childlike nature of the first film; here, they’re gone, which might have been just another way for Burton to prove that his film wasn’t a total remake of the first one. Wonka’s Oompa-Loompa helpers – ironically enough, all played by Deep Roy, who steals every scene he’s in

– get to sing a bit, and they do very well. The first film was more about Charlie and his family, not about Wonka and his own. Here, we learn about more than just Wonka the character, which makes Charlie’s bond with his own family and the message it sends just all the more strong.

Aside from that, the film stays relatively faithful to Dahl’s book (it was said that he didn’t like the 1971 version); the backstory about Wonka fixing up a chocolate palace for an Indian prince is here, and one of Charlie’s fellow winners get attacked by squirrels – real ones, tough to believe – both of which were left out of the first film.

Burton’s skill at creating larger-than-life environments and making them seem both realistic and enjoyable are in full force here, perhaps more so than anything since &uot;Beetlejuice.&uot; The ominous nature of the flick will creep us out, but he know how to push the envelope just enough to keep the youngest viewers from hiding their eyes. It’s a magical world controlled by a magician – in that case, Depp would be the assistant – and it’s a great ride.

Some might say that it’s wrong to fix things that aren’t broken, and they’re usually right. But in this case, it succeeds; while life itself wouldn’t have changed had the film not been made, it’s a worthy successor – and a success.

Grade: B+